I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bush: Our enemies in Iraq are not "terrorists"

George Bush said yesterday that the vast, vast majority of people whom we are fighting in Iraq are not "terrorists" at all, but merely Sunni "rejectionists" who favor a system of government which preserves long-standing Sunni privileges in Iraq:

A clear strategy begins with a clear understanding of the enemy we face. The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein -- and they reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group.

Ever since our invasion of Iraq began, we have been relentlessly subjected to angry complaints from many sources that the use of the term "insurgent" rather than "terrorist" to describe the people we are fighting in Iraq reflects some sort of moral perversion, that it is the by-product of an inability or refusal to call things by what they are and, most likely, a deep anti-Americanism which sympathizes with the terrorists and therefore seeks to call them by the more flattering, romanticized term "insurgents" rather than what they are -- evil, murderous terrorists. And, of course, these language monitors have excoriated the "politically correct MSM" for using the euphemism "insurgent" to describe the terrorists who we are fighting in Iraq.

Indeed, Bush himself repeatedly conflated the Iraqi insurgency with "terrorists" in order to equate opposition to the war in Iraq with a weak-willed refusal to fight "terrorism":

Bush on November 16, 2002, explaining the need for military action against Iraq:

We are committed to defending the nation. Yet wars are not won on the defensive. The best way to keep America safe from terrorism is to go after terrorists where they plan and hide.

And here was Bush on October 24, 2004 -- two weeks before the election -- defending the war in Iraq:

THE PRESIDENT: But this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the enemy.

We are dealing with killers who have made the death of Americans the calling of their lives. If America were not fighting these killers west of Baghdad and in the mountains of Afghanistan and elsewhere, what does Senator Kerry think they would do? Would they be living productive lives of service and charity? (Laughter.) Would the terrorists who behead innocent people on camera just be quiet, peaceful citizens if we had not liberated Iraq?


THE PRESIDENT: We are fighting these terrorists with our military in Afghanistan and Iraq and beyond so we do not have to face them in the streets of our own cities.
(Applause.) . . .

The desperate executions of unarmed Iraqi security forces show the evil nature of the terrorists we fight. It proves these terrorists are enemies of the Iraqi people, and the American people, and everyone who loves freedom. The terrorist insurgents hate our progress, and they fight our progress. But they will not stop our progress. (Applause.) We will stay on the offense against these terrorists and we will prevail. (Applause.) We will help the Iraqis get on the path to stability and democracy as quickly as possible, and then our troops will return home with the honor they have earned. (Applause.)

Countless other examples exist which demonstrate that Bush, over the course of the last 3 years, and particularly during the campaign, again and again told us that the enemy we were fighting in Iraq were "terrorists" or, as in this campaign speech, "terrorist insurgents." Thus, to oppose the war in Iraq was tantamount to running away from a fight against the "terrorists."

And yet, we now have President Bush expressly acknowledging (likely because he was forced to do so by irrefutable facts which have been recently publicized) that the overwhelming majority of our enemies in Iraq are not terrorists at all, but "rejectionists" or "Saddamists." More significantly still, Bush flat out says that the group which is "by far the largest group" is comprised of the rejectionists – people who are not terrorists but simply Sunnis who want a restoration of the privileged status they had under Saddam. And, the group that is comprised of terrorists "is the smallest."

So the war we are waging in Iraq is a war being fought against terrorism. By and large, Bush has now told us, the people we are shooting at and dropping bombs on and trying to kill are not terrorists. Instead, they are merely people who favor a pro-Sunni government in the internal struggle which is being waged in Iraq over who gets to govern that country and how.

All along, the people referring to all of our enemies in Iraq as "terrorists" -- and snidely insisting that everyone else use this term for the people against whom we have been fighting in Iraq -- have really been engaged in a misleading, inaccurate propaganda campaign. President Bush has now said that the term "terrorist" is inappropriate and inaccurate to describe the vast majority of people against whom we are fighting.

There are, of course, real, live terrorists both in Iraq and outside of Iraq who live, breath and eat all of the attributes which make someone a "terrorist." But that term has become a manipulative, all-purpose label for anyone and everyone whom we are supposed to hate and destroy, without regard to the reasons. It is a term which obfuscates and distorts more than clarifies, thanks to those who wield it propagandistically rather than descriptively.

The constant, deliberately misleading application of the term "terrorist" over the last 2 1/2 years to anyone and everyone we were fighting in Iraq (as well as to anyone we wanted to detain, deny due process to and/or torture) is a potent illustration of the deceitful way that word is used.

Now that President Bush has acknowledged that the word "terrorist" is inapplicable to the vast majority of our enemy in Iraq, will he retract those statements conflating the insurgency with terrorism? And will those who have insisted that we label as "terrorists" all Iraqis who have been fighting against U.S. forces acknowledge their error and apologize for their assault on the motives of those who used the more accurate term "insurgent"?

Those questions, unfortunately, can be asked only rhetorically, because the answer is too obvious to make the questions worth asking in any other way.

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